Connections – making the most of our relationships

Most of you would agree that as Humans we are wired and driven to connect with each other.  Relationships are crucial to our survival and to our happiness.  However, we can often struggle with exactly how to best connect with others, how to understand others or how to look after our connections over time.

It is wonderful how we have all been created unique and different.  In our drive to connect however, we all have different ways and needs when it comes to connection through our communication.  In my work as a trainer and facilitator I work with teams and individuals to teach them how to identify their own style of communication.   We also discover that they each have different communication needs to that of their colleagues.  The methods and models I like to use are simple and fun; two keys I believe are essential to learning something new and making a change.

How is your communication IQ?

Communication is a skill and requires thought, action and intent to occur.  Despite our best efforts sometimes our communication goes south and the result is often less than desirable.  This can be for a variety of reasons but one I will focus on here  is our different communication styles.

We all have a different style of communication but to complicate things we tend assume (that’s the first problem right there) that everyone communicates just like we do.  So, firstly we need to know what our own style is.  Then we need to know the styles of others or how to determine where someone else may be coming from.  This seems complicated but gets much easier once you understand the styles and learn a few key tips to identifying this in others.

For example, the DISC model of communication speaks about four main communication styles and that each of us is a blend of all four.  However, we have a predominant style or preference.  Lets go through the four styles briefly to give you an understanding of how much we differ.  As we go through you will probably begin to see which style you see most n your own communication style.

The Dominant styles of communication…

Dominant styles are action based, outgoing, task focused, results oriented and for the rest of the population they can be quite challenging.  If this is your style, however, chances are you are not even aware of the effect you can have on others.

This person is motivated by the challenge, they love to solve problems can be highly competitive and extremely strong willed.  If you want something done, give to this person.  However, be aware they may leave bruises.  These guys really have no idea how straight down the line, no fuss, in your face they can be.  To the average person they can come off at times as aggressive, even like a bully. Sadly this is not their intent at all.  They are just after the result and if people get in the way, then that’s where the damage can occur.

Understanding the Inspiring style…

The Inspiring style is one that is warm, fun and engaging.  They are outgoing and people focused.   These guys are all about relationship and having fun.  If you know someone with this style they can range from warm and friendly to zany and full of life, the life of the party.

This style does not care so much for organisation, rules, processes, work – it is simply not fun enough.  As you can imagine, if you work with this style and don’t understand it, you could be having some frustrations.  These guys are very good at motivating and energising people to do the work, not necessarily doing the work themselves.

The Steady style…

The steady style is reserved and people focused.  They love harmony in relationships and do not like conflict at all.  The steady style is relaxed, patient, they take time to make decisions, they do not like to be pushed and avoid change.  These guys as the name suggest are steady and consistent.

They are predictable, great listeners and really promote harmony in relationships.  They can be stubborn if pushed and are hard to read at times, as they do not readily show their emotions.  They will work consistently and love to get behind a leader with a cause they believe in.

The Compliance, Analytical style …

The compliance style is one that is all about procedures, processes and perfection.  These guys are all about getting things right.  If you know someone with this style they are reserved and task focused.  They are great at details, probably love stationary (known from personal experience) and are highly organized in some ways.

This style does not care so much for fun, they love rules, processes, and order- without it there would be complete chaos!  As you can imagine, if you know this style and don’t understand it, you could be having some frustrations.  These guys are very good at criticising and correcting people (but they don’t mean to be rude they just cannot stand things not being right).  If you need order in your chaos, they will sort you out.

The challenge can be in the difference

So as you can see the four styles are quite different.  Lets look at examples through our intimate relationships first.  You could image how tension in our intimate relationships could come about?  Particularly when you realise that opposites attract so you find often that the Dominant style is attracted to the Steady style and the Inspiring style to the Analytical Compliance style.

In the beginning it is bliss, the Dominant person loves how relaxed the Steady style is.  The steady style is attracted to the strong, driven, decision maker who will readily make decisions and they are happy to follow.

The Inspiring style loves how ordered and organized the Analytical style is, they help them find things that have been missing for years and help the Inspiring creative one to be more productive.  The Analytical style loves how fun and carefree the Inspiring style is and they bring more fun and colour to their ordered existence.  As I said…… bliss .

Until……..

Life, pressures and complacency get in the way.  Suddenly the Dominant person becomes tired of making all of the decisions, they would like their peaceful, patient partner to grow a pair and do something!!!    The Steady, patient, partner is beginning to dislike the intensity and pressure from the Dominant person and feels there is far too much conflict so they retreat even further.

The Inspiring person starts to feel judged by the ever perfect, critical and analytical partner.  They don’t mean to lack order and besides all of these processes just aren’t fun, why can’t they just like them for who they are?  While the Analytical partner becomes frustrated with their flippant, social butterfly partner who just wants to be around others all the time wasting time, and bringing chaos to their life.  Does anyone relate??

I strongly believe that what we all need to do is firstly appreciate that we are all different, and in our differences is the beauty as well as the challenge.  We need to be vigilant in looking for the aspects in our partners and relationships that we love and appreciate.  The things we like or even fell in love with.  So often I see people that get caught up in the frustrations and forget to even look for the wonderful.

Sure, sometimes it frustrates me that my wonderful husband is such a social butterfly, he will talk to anyone about anything.  People and relationships are his priority.  I am task focused and driven to get results so when we are on a mission to achieve something and he is chatting and laughing I can get frustrated.  But I remind myself that I love his warmth, I love how much colour he brings to my life and to anyone who knows him.  Let’s face it if he were like me, there would be nowhere near as much colour and fun in my life.

So when we are challenged by the differences in our relationships lets commit to reminding ourselves that we are all different and we all have unique and wonderful strengths.  Don’t focus on the difference negatively but on the fact that the difference is the strength that it brings to the relationship.

In a world where real connection is becoming more challenging, particularly through technology the use of social media.  Where people falsely think that facebook is a quality way to connect (only my opinion).  Where an email or text is sent to a colleague, instead of walking to their desk to talk face to face.  Where we are so pressured to be all and do all.  Where we can get so internally focused, forget to look outside of our selves and appreciate what and who is around us.

If we can remember what it is that we love about those special people in our lives.  Accept that there is strength in our differences and unite.  I know that we will all be so much happier and that our friends and families will flourish beyond our wildest imagination.

Bipolar – I’ve heard the word, now what does it mean?

A phrase heard more and more commonly these days is describing someone as bipolar. “She seems really bipolar,” “He’s acting weird, he probably has bipolar.” To describe someone as bipolar has become a fashionable label. But what does it really mean to suffer from bipolar disorder, and to be “bipolar?”  Is it a state we are in when going through life crises? Do we get bipolar? Or is it a part of our personality, a stable aspect of our behaviour?
I thought I would dedicate my blog post today to further exploring what it is like to suffer from bipolar disorder and to perhaps challenge some of its myths.
What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar Disorder is essentially, a biologically-based ‘mood disorder.’ Sufferers of bipolar experience episodes of depression – periods of constant low mood that can last from as little as two weeks to as long as several months. These episodes of depression come with varied symptoms such as changed sleep or eating patterns and significantly less desire to take part in pleasurable activities.

However, true to the ‘bipolar’ name, sufferers also experience periods of elevated mood, termed, ‘mania’ or ‘hypomania.’ These highs vary significantly from individual to individual, on a spectrum of severity. On the less severe side (hypomania), people may feel increased feelings of wellbeing, increased energy, become more talkative and social, become more productive in their work or home life and find less need for sleep. The periods of hypomania can last as little as a couple of days through to weeks, especially if untreated.
The symptoms above may seem like quite a blessing. Who wouldn’t want to have a week or two where they felt great? I know I would appreciate the energy to knock off a couple of projects. However there is a darker side to the highs. Often hypomania can produce a loss of inhibition and a tendency towards more risky behaviours. This can range from being more likely to take a stranger home with you after a night clubbing, through to playing chicken with cars on the street. The changes in personality can make individuals much more irritable, impatient and quick to anger, causing fights with family and friends.
The severe end of the highs is called mania. While mild hypomania can cause little disruption (and actually feel quite good), severe mania can cause massive amounts of individual and family disruption and often leads to hospitalisation. Sufferers can experience hallucinations such as voices, delusions,  severely disrupted speech and complete life disorganisation to the point where he or she cannot look after themselves in their current state.
The impact of bipolar

People who suffer from bipolar disorder experience a recurrent pattern of these two mood states; periods of depression and periods of hypomania or mania. The patterns vary widely from individual to individual – some can have very rapid cycling, alternating between the lows and highs without very little space of normality in between. Others still can have long and severe episodes of mania that only occur once every 3-5 years. No two individuals experience bipolar disorder the same. Periods of normal mood are often few and far between and episodes are almost always out of an individual’s control (the exception being certain recreational drugs and medication which can cause episodes in vulnerable people, and often the symptoms disappear when the drug is ceased).
As you can imagine, bipolar disorder can be very debilitating. Sufferers often struggle to maintain jobs; they find it hard to make it to work when they are depressed, and often do strange things like unexpectedly quit when they are high. Relationships are often strained, and there are higher rates of divorce in families with a bipolar parent. And for those who experience psychotic symptoms while high, trips to the psychiatric hospital are a common occurrence. Bipolar disorder ranks with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Schizophrenia as one of the top three psychiatric disorders in terms of life burden.
The Myths of Bipolar

Bipolar disorder is little understood, and only in the past few years have researchers begun to gain some understanding of the illness. The term ‘Bipolar’ has only been in widespread use for the past 10-20 years, previously it was referred to as ‘Manic Depression.’
When  we meet someone who seems particularly up and down in their emotional states, it has become recent practice in the media and somewhat in society too, to use the word bipolar. As you can see though, bipolar is far more complicated than having up days and down days. Furthermore, whereas  typical ups and downs are usually related to good or bad events, bipolar episodes can be triggered suddenly, without warning.
To be bipolar is not to have a ‘bipolar’ personality. While there are often behaviour changes when having a depressed or manic episode, these changes revert when the episode ends. To have bipolar does not necessarily mean several mood swings in a day, it generally occurs over a longer time frame.
What can be done for someone who suffers from bipolar?

The purpose of this post has been to highlight in general terms, what it means to have bipolar disorder and to differentiate the disorder from the use of the word ‘bipolar.’ However, bipolar is infinitely more complicated that a single blog post may cover. Bipolar is a lifetime illness, that often runs in families; hence it is often part of the story of generations of individuals.
Bipolar is debilitating, but there are things that can be done for those who suffer from it. Medication is usually the front-line treatment, and good results can be found from drugs that are taken regularly. Psychiatrists are usually the professionals used to manage bipolar in patients. As a psychologist, there are lots of things that can be done to help mitigate the experience of bipolar; to encourage self-awareness about your individual cycles, to encourage positive and healthy lifestyles and establishing support networks for when the illness strikes again.
If any of the descriptions of bipolar sound like your life, it may be daunting to ask a health professional about bipolar, but early detection can really help get a front foot against the illness. A first step however, may be to consult the Black Dog Institute Website – www.blackdoginstitute.org.au. There is a wealth of information there and plenty of resources to provide support and guidance.

References:
Mitchell, P.B., Slade, T. & Andrew, G. (2004)  Twelve-month prevalence and disability of DSM-IV bipolar disorder in an Australian general population survey. Psychological Medicine 34; 777-785.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text revision). Washington, DC.